As I continue to enjoy N.T. Wright’s book “Surprised By Hope”, I am seeing a common theme concerning how Platonic views of the body/soul have become a mainstream part of Christian thinking. From my initial understanding of Plato, he believed that the soul was separate from the body and could exist outside the body. This is a common way of understanding the soul, and I have often stated it in those terms. In Christian circles, this has often led to a belief that it does not matter what is done in the physical body, for the soul will last eternally separate from the body.
This view of separation has extended into the physical realm. Members of the Western Christian tradition have separated past, present, and future. We have gone further to treat Earth and Heaven as two separate things. This has often led to a neglect of both our bodies and of the Earth on which we live.
N.T. Wright, however, has a different way of looking at the soul. For him, the spiritual and the physical are intertwined. In addition, the present and future are also intertwined. This leads to some interesting points on the Christian view of salvation. From page 200 of his book, we have this summary “the work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls: (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”
I find this summary interesting because it seems to be consistent with various Eastern Orthodox writings I have been reading for the past few years. It seems that although the early Church Fathers were very aware of Platonic philosophy, the traditions passed down from the Church Fathers through the Eastern branch of Christianity never included the Platonic idea on the soul. The early Church Fathers considered Platonic ideas, but rejected them and did not pass them down. It was only in the Western branch of Christianity that these ideas were assimilated into thought.
This brings us to the subject of the book, the resurrection. In the resurrection, body and soul are brought together again as one. In the future resurrection, Christ returns to establish a new Earth here, not in some abstract place called heaven. With the resurrection, that which is separate is brought together as one.
This has become for me part of the wonderful mystery of the Christian faith. The Christian tradition is not about some abstract future hope of the soul being present in an abstract heaven. It is about a blending of past, present and future. It is about an intertwining of body and soul. It is about both a present Earth and a new Earth. All are important, and all are interrelated.